Chefs from San Francisco's most famous restaurant, Chez Panisse, have indelibly changed the American food scene over the past 40 years as they've opened establishments of their own, and now we're going to get a taste on our side of the Pacific. The Merivale group has secured the services of Danielle Alvarez, a fixture in the Chez Panisse kitchens over the past four years or so, to rock the pans at the restaurant they're opening on Oxford Street in Sydney's Paddington at the end of this year.
Merivale chief Justin Hemmes says Alvarez's cooking is some of the best he's ever tasted. "It's not complicated, but it's full of flavour. She allows the quality of the produce to speak for itself."
Alvarez has drafted menus for summer that include the likes of confit albacore tuna with wild fennel, green beans and caponata, a saffron-scented shellfish stew with Moreton Bay bugs, clams, squid and okra, and a leg of lamb teamed with tapenade, tomatoes poached in olive oil, fresh borlotti beans and onion rings. In short, it's all about smart, sunny, Mediterranean-style eats that ought to be a pretty crisp fit for the sort of wine list Sydney has come to expect from resident Merivale sommelier-genius Franck Moreau.
There's still plenty to be decided about the restaurant (its name included), but Hemmes says Alvarez's farm-to-table approach will inform the entire enterprise. "We're going to build the restaurant and the concept around Danielle's cooking and around her personality."
True to form, Merivale has already put Alvarez to work designing the breakfast menus for the group's Palace Hotel project at Coogee Beach, which opens mid-July. The chef, who's also an alum of The French Laundry, says for her part she's excited to be in the country. "I just want to put a spotlight on the best produce from around Sydney and around Australia."
With so much interest in Latin American cooking, we were curious to know whether Alvarez, who hails from Miami, was planning to incorporate her Cuban heritage into her menus. "I tend to leave the Cuban cooking to my mom and my grandmother," she says. "But you never know."
Looking for more Sydney dining options? Check out our list of the best restaurants in Sydney.